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The value of bricks and mortar has risen at almost twice the rate of gold over the past three-and-a-half years. The East End of London offers the highest yields for Central London buy-to-let investments. At 9.15% East End residential investment properties yield a fifth more than the capital's average. Wherever are stretching, what estate agents call “fashionable loft style new build developments” end up ”increasing the acceptability of the area”. Estate agents and developers, who market gentrification as an appetizing and profitable proposition, notoriously don’t sell you a few square meters insalubriously surrounded by thin walls, but a lifestyle: the experience of living in the midst of the East End dangerous past, the it-has-that-villagey-community-feeling-about-it and all the amenities the perfect city dweller with more disposable income than brains aspire to. The principle followed is still slum clearances. In postwar East London whole families were moved from Bethnal Green, Shadwell, Stepney and Hackney further east, to make place for new working class accommodation. This time the clearance gives way not to council tower blocks, but to an overall conversion to middleclass conformity of taste and acceptable décor. The system is trite: pricing people out. But the goal has never been so strikingly pursued: the transformation of the city into a playground for the rich, Manhattan- style. Pushed out of the land, when will the peasants revolt? Of course, the East End is now portrayed as one of the hip and trendy parts of London. Yes. It is changing fast. This is repeated by artists, social commentators, journalists, estate agents and property developers alike. And residents, if anyone bother to listen to their voice. On one side, there is the TimeOut school of thought with its “East is the New West” trendification drivel. Tens of millions of pounds are thrown into redevelopment, at trying to bring the Olympics to London, at turning every facets of individuality into corporate-botoxified zones. On the other, there is a reality of deprivation, submerged racism and exploitation, poor housing and lack of opportunities, gangland crime and social need cohabiting with the media/art/fashion/etc industries that have been steadily colonizing the area. Right in the middle of the gentrified zone there is landscape that does not appear on the glossy brochures of the estate agents. Yet, it refuses to go away. And the “multicultural” and “cosmopolitan” adjectives evoked to describe the “vibrancy” of the territory, are a worn out veneer no longer able to disguise the mixture of apartheid, invisible war and social segregation between Bengali (over a third of Tower Hamlets borough’s 196,000 population), Afro Caribbean (around 6%), white and all the “others” that do no fit the labels. The divisions are geographically stark, income- based, racially oriented. Gentrification and the pockets of self-referential affluence it brings to the East End may be heralded as urban regeneration. But this cannot take the attention away from the reality. The point is not only that gentrification squeezes people out by bringing in price-rise, a sanitized urbanscape and a law-abiding atmosphere. The undesirable are moved further and deeper, they are removed from the eyes, drawn in the inner city ghettos or pushed to the city’s extreme reaches. But not everybody leaves, much to the displeasure of developers and landlords. They are here, but become invisible, their existence ignored, in parallel to the affluent inflated property gentry. The point is therefore not gentrification per se. Gentrification is the very visible manifestation of an ideological ingrained structure that envelops and rules the entire world. An ideology of greed and profit and exploitation where creation and freedom have no space if not for providing prime resources of consumption. I wondered where the word gentrification came from and I found out that to gentrify = “renovate and improve so that it conforms to middle-class taste”. Even more interesting, was to find out that gentry = “people of good social position, specifically the class of people next below the nobility in position and birth”, a word that comes from the Latin gentiles = “of the same clan”. So, gentrification has to do with striving to conform, with pigeonholing, with occupying the “right” social and topographical site, properly allocated by ancient laws of proximity to the landowners or by birth. It is about a hierarchy that becomes geography. Hence, it is about the ruling of a self-appointed ruling class rooted upon something like your grand-grand-granddad taking the land off my grand-grand- granduncle and being prized for it. It is about a law of social position and aspirational uniformity. It is about everybody believing that this is the best system, so that they all buy of their own accord into soft subjugation. It is about conversion, something that smacks of abjuring individuality to embrace a creativity-flattening religion of prefab design, of fenguishization of chaos, of homogeneity, conformity and fencing. Above all, gentrification is about fracture and desegregation. Behind the veneer of the converted workingman cottages the social conflict cannot but increase, as steadily as the properties prices. Mind your back garden door, Mr. New Buyer. We could leave ours always open, you know. ………………………………………….. …And yet..we all are implicated in this process. By moving into a derelict garage we have set out a process whereby now - 5 years later - couples with steady incomes and the desire to buy into a piece of trendy London find themselves to look for properties off the Roman Road. …A couple knocks on my door to view the property. My impression is that they are bursting. They look over-keen, over-blonde, over-weight and, yes, over- here. “Troubles with the kids around here?” Is the very first question they apprehensively ask. “Never” - I say – “I have never had any trouble with the kids…and if they gather in the mews to smoke a joint and misbehave I let them be. I was a kid myself” . Nervous laughter all round. It had to happen. The wave of arty-smarty blonde wooden floors, open plan kitchens and live/work conversion of original shambolic chaotic freezing garrets has reached 6 Peary Place, Villakulla Cottage. So be it. We are moving light like feathers than the weather can blow everywhere it wants. We carry with us something that no estate agent or greedy landlord can take off us or sell to somebody else, no matter how much they are prepared to pay. Laughter and joy and the stars and the buzz of making an home out of a derelict space, of seeing the hearth through the bricks and the rats, the total deliriously exhilarating experience of building a house out of scrap, found objects and dreams shared with friends, a home that grew like the city itself: chaotic, shambolic, slightly toxic, seriously mutant, out of control, intended for incessant transformation. Not for one moment have I thought that the city could be stopped. The city moves. It is a shapeshifter. It grows under your feet like mushrooms. It rots away like discarded meat. It festers. It blossoms. It shows you invisible pathways made of smells, soundscapes and shadows. It leads you through mazes and labyrinths that have no exit or Minotaur. The city multiplies, proliferates, decays, is reborn everywhere and everytime. I have never seen anything more alive than this city. Its contours are changing. Nothing stays the same. Witches become Hibiscus flowers. Cottages become a passport to nomadism. Lines become curves. They break, they stop, they start, they recompose. They fly. Never for a moment have I thought that the city could stay still. I have seen it mutate and change, season after season, with imperceptible movements and mind-blowing earthquakes. I store the memories of all the stages, transitions and metamorphosis I have witnessed; all is stored in my inventory of the transformation of in/organic matter. The city welcomes you like an irresistible carnivore plant that you transform yourself into. Its beauty is total and it contains everything. It embraces you like a pillow, it takes the shape of your thoughts, it lets you dream, it makes you see the future. It surprises you, when around the corner the unexpected is expecting you; when time travel is a reality and you see the ghosts that are becoming you. This is the time to let some ghosts go and change address.
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